JAMESTOWN, N.Y. — Lou Tsitso, an altar server for Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Jamestown, relies heavily on his faith.

"Very important. I make it part of my life," said Tsitso. 

What You Need To Know

  • Sepsis is not widely known, but is a conditon that impacts 70% of people over 60

  • Sepsis claims the lives of 350,000 adults and 7,000 children each year, according to the the Sepsis Alliance

  • The Sepsis Alliance and NYS Office for the Aging want people to know the signs and symptoms

And never was it more important than when he experienced a life-threatening health crisis.

"I was scared. I'm not going to say I wasn't," said Tsitso.

He was diagnosed with sepsis, a condition that occurs when the body's response to an infection damages vital organs which can lead to death.

For Tsitso, it started with severe back pain that sent him to three different hospitals before surgery, and he still has scars on his neck and lower back.

"Because I think if I would have waited much longer, I could have been dead or severely paralyzed. I think I would have died if I didn't go to the hospital that night," he said.

Leaders with the Sepsis Alliance say severe pain is one of four symptoms that generates 1.7 million cases a year, impacting 70% of the county's 60 and older population.

Other signs include an infected wound, as well as swings in body temperature and mental health status.

"It is common, it is deadly and it moves very quickly. Older adults have to be that much more conscience of that fact they're more susceptible to infections and those infections could lead to sepsis," said Tom Heymann, president and CEO of the Sepsis Alliance.

To help prevent it, leaders encourage people to wash their hands often and keep up with vaccinations.

The alliance works with states like New York to educate the public, influence government leaders, and train healthcare professionals.

"It's taking a lot of lives, it's causing a lot of harm to families, and it's costing a lot of money so, we're really proud of the work we're doing with New York State and New York State with us," said Heymann.

State leaders on aging like Greg Olsen, who co-chairs a national committee, says someone dies from sepsis every 90 seconds.

"Because if you can identify it quickly, you can be treated. But it's one of those things if you miss it, you could literally be dead in a day or two," said Olsen, who serves as the director of the New York State Office for the Aging.

Tsitso sys he is blessed to be feeling better after a slow recovery that required therapy and prayer.

"Appreciative. I'm very grateful because they saved my life," said Tsitso.

The Sepsis Alliance was founded in 2007 and looks to raise the level of education to that of stroke and heart health.